Women are renowned for being able to multi-task. The stereotypical male can only do one thing at a time while women can handle many tasks at once. Not me… I can hardly keep my attention on one thing! I get distracted at the slightest notification or pop-up. Even someone sweeping near me can distract me. Sometimes I’ll spend the whole morning starting several tasks and not finish any of them. I’ll start researching or writing an article – bing an alert pops up on my computer. I read the alert, perhaps click on it, read the mail which reminds me to do another thing. Oooh, that looks gorgeous, let me buy that. Hmmm… I feel like a cup of coffee. I go to the kitchen, open the fridge for no apparent reason. Close it. Gosh, I need to go grocery shopping. Make coffee. Back to my computer – bing! Someone commented on an article on Facebook. The phone rings, it’s a telemarketer. I walk into another room. What was I looking for again? Why did I come to this room? Bing – a WhatsApp. Agh!
Now it’s 1pm. The school run has crept up on me and then “Little” has a swimming lesson. All I’ve done is read unimportant emails and done some regrettable online shopping!
I’m told I’ve always been like this. My mind and attention wonders easily. I find that when I’m in “the zone” I work fast and well. But the zone sometimes feels like it’s on another planet! And often “the zone” is only found when I’m under pressure.
I laugh at Jill, she’s exactly the same – but she shops even more and calls it “research”. Our planning meetings tend to sprawl into an entertaining paintball match of ideas being shot at each other, eventually ending in a Jackson Pollock masterpiece. Somehow it comes together but there’s little structure to it all.
I think it’s important to let my mind wonder every now and then and allow new ideas to enter. But when I want to buckle-down and get something done, I want to be effective. So, I hit the wires for some advice. Here are the eight efficiency tips that turned up in my research. This is my advice to myself –
TIP #1: WORK WHEN YOU’RE MOST EFFECTIVE
Most people are more effective in the morning or in the evening. Schedule your tasks according to when you’re most likely to be in “the zone”. I’m more effective in the mornings so I’m going to get up early, work out, take “Little” to school and then buckle down.
TIP #2: DO A TO-DO LIST
Before getting started take a moment to write down your tasks. Then arrange them in order of priority. My to-do list is very long and I could get overwhelmed with what needs to be done. So I’m going to schedule two or three things that I want to complete a day.
Jill and I have started using an app called Todoist. It lets you set up a project and schedule each task. You can also share a project with other users and allocate tasks to specific people.
TIP #3: AVOID THE INTERNET
The only way for me to avoid distractions from pop-ups and notifications is to turn my Wi-Fi off (and put my phone on silent). I’ve never tried this before but I’m sure it will go a long way to helping me focus on a task. There are tools like Freedom and SelfControl that are internet, social media and app blockers. It might be worth trying one of these.
TIP #4: SIT IN SILENCE
An open plan office or working at home has lots of noises. Many people are resorting to earphones and music to block out the surrounding sounds. But research shows that to be most effective, you need to focus as many senses as possible on the task. I recall that wearing earplugs during my university exams helped me to focus. I might try that again.
TIP #5: MAKE SURE YOUR WORKSPACE IS ORDERLY
This tip is linked to the one above. If your senses are distracted by a messy desk or work-space, you won’t work as effectively. Make sure you have a tidy, comfortable space to work in.
TIP #6: KNOW YOUR LIMITS
My research shows that one can only expect to be in “the zone” for 40 to 45 minutes per hour. One suggestion is to go about tasks in a 40:15:5 ratio. Try to focus on a task for 40 minutes, avoiding all distractions. Then for 15 minutes do internet related things like emails and for 5 minutes get up and walk around. The only trick here is to stick to the 15 minute internet limit! I’m likely to get engrossed in something and go over the limit.
What I do like about this formula is the need to stand. Sitting has become the new smoking, and research shows that even if you go to the gym daily, people who sit for long periods at a time are more likely to develop diabetes or heart disease. For more info on this see this research article.
TIP #7: DON’T EAT HUGE MEALS
Eating a large meal before trying to knuckle down will make you feel sluggish. I always have an energy slump at 3:00pm if I’ve had a big lunch. Also try not to overdo the coffee. You’ll feel alert for a little while and then hit a wall which likely leads to another cup – zing! Now you’re wired and can’t get anything done anyway. Rather drink water and stay hydrated.
TIP #8: GET ENOUGH SLEEP
If you’re tired you’ll struggle to focus, eat more sugar to help you stay alert and are less likely to get up early and exercise. Exercise is a great way to start your day and clear your head.
Lately I’ve been going to bed later and later because I didn’t get enough done during the day. I’m going to make sure I start my bedtime routine at 9:30pm so that I’m in bed by 10:00pm. Routine is extremely important for me because I’ve always been a bad sleeper. Read my post Sleeping Tips From An Insomniac for more sleep tips.
Do you have any special techniques to avoid distracton? It’d be great if you shared them with us.